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John France
British Classical Music: The Land of Lost Content, January 2010

Cinderella, a graceful waltz in E major, appears in volume five of the series, and Water Lilies, a dreamy nocturne in B major, in volume four.

Cinderella is a…truly lovely miniature and well worth learning.

…the video are excellent—they are well chosen and include, in order.

Patsy Morita, March 2009

Ashley Wass’ second disc of piano music by William Alwyn stretches from Alwyn’s first published work for solo piano to his last (with the exception of the educational Twelve Diversions for the Five Fingers). Hunter’s Moon, three brief character pieces, was written as an examination piece in 1932. The three Movements, at the end of the disc, date from 1961. In between are more character pieces and the Twelve Preludes, which dates from 1958 and which Wass places at the beginning of the program. The preludes contrast with the rest of the program by virtue of being more formal, structured, and abstract pieces. In spite of this, there is a consistency of style in Alwyn’s music that makes the chronological ordering of it relatively unnecessary or irrelevant. Especially in Wass’ hands, Alwyn’s music is always thoughtful and personally felt, yet very approachable. It’s frequently more harmonically adventurous than what is thought of as English Pastoralist or English post-Romantic music, but it still has the overall quiet, lyrical, and lean sound of that style and can hardly be called atonal. Even the Contes Barbares, subtitled “Homage to Paul Gauguin” and referring to Gauguin’s Tahitian period, is not as exotic sounding as one might expect. “Te Atua—The Gods” in Contes Barbares sounds less like the allegro barbaro it is marked as than does “The Devil’s Reel” at the end of the Movements. As with the other programmatic pieces, it’s more about the character or story of the music, the picture it is aurally painting, than establishing a substantive correlation with the subject. Alwyn is trying to capture the mood of Gauguin’s paintings rather than Polynesian rhythms or harmonies, although, on the other hand, “The Devil’s Reel” does sound like an authentic fiddler’s tune. Fans of the English post-Romantics and Impressionist music will appreciate Wass’ continued effort to give listeners a chance to hear Alwyn’s neglected music.

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, March 2009

…Alwyn’s piano music is absorbing, varied, colorful, and inspired. Ashley Wass plays these pieces as if he’s lived with them for years, whether or not that is actually the case. © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, January 2009

This second volume of Alwyn’s piano music is another first-rate recent Naxos release. [Vol 1 is 8.570359— Ed.] Played by Ashley Wass, who is making a name for himself in British piano music generally, it features the Twelve Preludes, Contes Barbares and Movements, as well as a number of shorter pieces. This record is well worth looking out for.

Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, January 2009

Everything about this excellent collection of Elgar part-songs is wonderfully clean and clear: the sound, the enunciation, and the vocal lines. The Cambridge University Chamber Choir under Christopher Robinson sing with great precision and their diction is outstanding (listen to Death on the Hills, for example). On the negative side, the performance is sometimes a bit too measured so that there is no sense of thrill or exhilaration in the music. Nevertheless, these are good crisp performances of some wonderful songs, with top-quality singing.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, December 2008

The thirty tracks on this generous CD cover a broad swath of this composer’s music, from 1926 to 1961, some never previously recorded. British pianist Ashley Wass gives the music his best shot, but one is not likely to walk away from hearing it humming a tune. For decades I was engaged in promoting contemporary music, mostly piano works, on records. In every case, the composer in question had a following among her/his students, friends and admirers, and foundations or individuals to help defray the cost of such activity. It takes a bold enterprise such as Naxos’ to continue such commendable activity.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, December 2008

The exciting news for Alwyn collectors is that we have a number of premiere recordings in volume two of the Piano Music series. Hunter’s Moon, Two Irish Pieces, Contes Barbares, Cinderella and Water Lilies are all apparently making a first commercial appearance.

The biggest work here however is Twelve Preludes of 1958. Wass has an august predecessor on disc in the shape of John Ogdon’s towering Chandos recording, which was released in the mid 1980s. I’m not aware that it has yet made it to CD. Wass and Ogdon in any case offer rather divergent views of the piece, both valid, both plausible and both intensely communicative. Wass is less veiled and crepuscular in the First than Ogdon, preferring a more staccato-based approach and less pedal. He employs more rubato than Ogdon in the second and is a touch quicker as well and is less overtly expressive than the latter in the Third. In the Prelude dedicated to the New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell [No.5], who was killed in a car crash, both explore the elegiac depth but Ogdon’s faster tempo conveys the urgency and immediacy and shock of the loss, whereas Wass’s slower romanticism offers a more wistful response. The biggest difference is in No.7 where Wass plays quite a straight bat taking a very quick and linear way with the evocative bell peals.  In short Ogdon’s playing tends to be more expressive—not invariably a matter of tempi—and to cultivate a more misterioso element, whereas Wass’s is more classical, more restrained; the difference between a Giesking Debussy performance and one by George Copeland perhaps.

Contes Barbares (Homage to Paul Gauguin) was written between 1930 and 1933. There are two running orders for this set of seven pieces, in one of which No.7 is omitted thus reducing the cycle to six. These are characterful studies based on Gauguin’s paintings which had entranced Alwyn since 1928–29. Did he know of the Delius-Gauguin connection one wonders? These vital pieces include a sprightly dance, some austere reflective material, a powerful earthy surge, a deft waltz and a forthright march patina. The other big piece is Movements of 1961, cast in three sections. The first in unsettled and powerfully argued, whilst the second is more limpid—and has a slightly elusive feel especially at the close. The final movement is vivacious, and driving.

The pedagogic charmers that make up the rest of the recital have wider interest than that. Some were written for graded recreational use. Hunter’s Moon is a triptych, with two capricious outer movements framing a darkling thrush inner one. The Two Irish Pieces of 1926 are engaging especially the second which is entitled Paddy the Fiddler with all that that implies. Cinderella is a charming waltz whilst Night Thoughts has a forthright march section that doubtless contributed to insomnia.

These little pieces should certainly have a life in the concert stage; one or two would make delightful encore pieces. Wass characterises them very well indeed. He has been granted a first class recording—things invariably seem to go well at Crear Studios.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, November 2008

A second volume of Alwyn from the ever-pleasing Ashley Wass

Economy of means, searching expression and communicative flair are the hallmarks of William Alwyn’s Twelve Preludes, a 25-minute cycle composed between April and June 1958 which shares a strong stylistic kinship with his powerful Third and Fourth Symphonies from the same period…[Ashley Wass’s] exquisite keyboard finesse and abundant musicality give heaps of pleasure.

The Contes barbares (1930–33) had to wait until March 1940 for their private premiere by Alwyn’s close friend, Clifford Curzon. These vividly illustrative pieces draw their inspiration from paintings and woodblocks by the French artist Paul Gaugin and, intriguingly, exist in two versions (you can programme the disc accordingly). More impressive still is Movements: completed in September 1961 and dedicated to composer Doreen Carwithen (who became Alwyn’s second wife), it’s an uncommonly gripping 15-minute triptych, full of bold contrasts and technically challenging, not least in the headlong thrust of the concluding “The Devil’s Reel”.

Teaching pieces make up the remainder: both Hunter’s Moon (comprising three miniatures from 1932) and the Two Irish Pieces (1926) contain more than their fair share of winsome invention, while the reflective Cinderella and Water Lilies (two of nine pieces composed in 1952 for Lengnick’s album series entitled Five by Ten) form a particularly fetching diptych. Wass gives outstandingly sympathetic performances throughout and he has been granted eminently ripe and realistic sound. All in all, a most enjoyable CD.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2008

Even among the arresting discoveries we have enjoyed in Naxos’s British Music Series, William Alwyn’s piano output is something very special.Born in 1905, Alwyn’s musical education was terminated while still a teenager, his father’s premature death making it necessary to earn a living. Yet such had been his achievements thus far at London’s Royal Academy of Music that at the age of twenty-two he returned there as a composition tutor. Commissions to write more than 60 film scores financially allowed Alwyn to devote much time in later life to ‘serious’ composition, though his unwillingness to join the latest trends did not please the musical establishment. Highly productive, he has left us with a large catalogue of music that included around 150 piano works composed over a period of forty years. He moved easily between major scores—such as the Twelve Preludes which open the disc—and such delectable lightweight cameos as Cinderella and the rippling Water Lilies. ‘Following in the footsteps of Rachmaninov’ has been an off-quoted reference point, but Alwyn was also a very personal composer, never a true acolyte to the school of British music, but still an English voice. It would certainly be wrong to depict him as a composer in a time warp, the early Contes Barbares (Homage to Paul Gauguin) replicates in music the great artist’s paintings, while Movements—his last major score for the keyboard—takes on board much that was musically happening in the 1960s. Five works here receive their first recording and could hardly hope for more persuasive performances. Shaping the cameos with affection, Ashley Wass unleashes his virtuosity in a brilliant account of Movements, while he intuitively captures the mood swings of the Twelve Preludes. Fabulous sound quality.

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